Roberto Luongo

Under Pressure: Roberto Luongo

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“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the Vancouver Canucks, we pick…goalie Roberto Luongo.

Full disclosure: we were going to pick Ryan Kesler for this, because 1) there’s quite a bit of pressure on Kesler to return to form, and 2) everyone’s kind of sick of the Canucks’ goaltending saga.

But we just couldn’t do it — nobody’s under more pressure this season in Vancouver than Luongo, for these reasons:

1) His reputation is on the line. Earlier this month, he said his goal is to “get back to where I was two years ago and re-establish myself as one of the best in the league.” Luongo finished the 2013 season with a .907 save percentage, his lowest mark since his rookie season with the Islanders.

2) There’s no legitimate Plan B for the Canucks. Vancouver’s backup is probably going to be Eddie Lack, a 25-year-old who’s yet to make his NHL debut and is coming off hip surgery. Which is to say, Lack is no Cory Schneider. Not yet anyway. If Luongo isn’t good, the Canucks could miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

3) The Olympics. Luongo wants to play for Team Canada again. “This is a big year for me,” he said. “I have been sitting on the bench for a while and I want to show everybody what I can do. We all know it’s an Olympic year so I just want to make the best of it.”

On top of all that, Luongo’s long-term future in Vancouver is far from clear, even though the 34-year-old is signed through 2021-22. Remember, the Canucks still have one of their compliance buyouts remaining. And while ownership was obviously loathe to use it this past summer, if Luongo struggles badly this season, the pressure from fans (a.k.a. customers) to use it next June will be immense. Vancouver hockey fans pay some of the highest ticket prices in the NHL. In return, they expect ownership to use its deep pockets to put the best team possible on the ice.

But that debate can wait for later, if necessary. (We don’t even want to get into the whole “Luongo might not actually mind getting bought out” angle.)

Luongo, by the way, didn’t get off to the best start in the preseason; on Wednesday, he allowed four goals in the first 12:24 versus the Oilers, including this stinker:

For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.

Halak practices fully, hoping to be back soon

Jaroslav Halak
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Jaroslav Halak took a major step in his return from a groin injury on Monday, participating in a full practice with his Islander teammates ahead of tomorrow’s Game 3 against the Lightning.

“He’s progressing,” head coach Jack Capuano said, per the Isles’ website. “I don’t know how far or where he is or when he could play, but I know that having him on the ice going through a full practice, but again it’s about conditioning and timing with goaltenders and their movement, but he’s progressing and it’s great to see.

“I don’t have a timetable yet though.”

Halak hasn’t played in nearly two months — he suffered his groin injury on Mar. 8. His initial timetable for return was 6-8 weeks, and Tuesday will mark his eighth week out of action.

It seems highly unlikely Halak will be an option — at least in terms of starting — anytime soon. He told the Isles’ site the lengthy layoff means it now feels “like the beginning of the season for me,” and Thomas Greiss has performed well through the playoffs thus far, posting a .937 save percentage and 2.06 GAA.

If anything, Halak’s goal could be to get in good enough shape to serve as Greiss’ backup at some point. J.F. Berube has filled that role during the postseason, but has yet to see any action.

Prior to getting hurt, Halak was New York’s No. 1 netminder and played reasonably well, posting a .919 save percentage and 2.30 GAA in 36 starts.

Martin Jones is making Doug Wilson look pretty smart

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 01:  Martin Jones #31 and Tomas Hertl #48 of the San Jose Sharks blocks the shot of Colton Sissons #10 of the Nashville Predators in Game Two of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. at SAP Center on May 1, 2016 in San Jose, California. The Sharks won the game 3-2. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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The thing about rolling the dice on an unproven goalie is that you can look really foolish if it doesn’t work out.

That’s the risk Doug Wilson took when he bet on Martin Jones. Fortunately for the Sharks’ general manager, it’s looking like a great wager these days.

Seven games into the playoffs and Jones is 6-1 with a .923 save percentage. The 26-year-old has been especially good against the Predators. He was named first star in Game 2, a 3-2 San Jose victory that gave the Sharks a 2-0 series lead.

Jones, you’ll recall, was acquired in an offseason trade with the Bruins. The Sharks gave up a first-round draft pick and a prospect to get their man, whom they immediately signed to a three-year, $9 million contract.

At the time, Jones had only started 29 games in the NHL. He was slated to battle Alex Stalock — another relatively inexperienced guy — for the starting job in San Jose.

“I think I’m ready to definitely take that step and play more hockey games,” Jones said. “I had a great two years in L.A. learning from Jonathan Quick. It’s been a big couple of years in my development and I’m looking forward to the new challenge.”

Make no mistake, it was a big risk for Wilson to bet on such an inexperienced tandem. If the Sharks had missed the playoffs again this year, who knows what would’ve happened in San Jose?

But while goaltending remains arguably the most important position in hockey, recent history shows it doesn’t take an experienced, big-money netminder to win. Quick had a $1.8 million cap hit when he won his first Stanley Cup with the Kings. Corey Crawford‘s cap hit was just under $3 million when he won his first Cup with the Blackhawks, who had Antti Niemi and his sub-$1 million salary in goal when they won in 2010.

Quick and Crawford have both signed big deals since. But the temptation for frugality remains, thanks to a seemingly endless supply of quality netminders. After all, the more cap space a team can save on its goalies, the more it can spend on its skaters.

The key, obviously, is picking the right horse. Choose poorly and it can be a disaster. That’s why some GMs will opt to pay a premium for experience. Track records can be comforting. Youngsters, on the other hand, can buckle under the weight of expectations.

So far, Jones has handled the postseason pressure like a veteran, and he’s a big reason why the Sharks are two wins from reaching the Western Conference Final.

Seguin resumes skating in Dallas, Ruff notes ‘they have flights into St. Louis every day’

Dallas Stars' Tyler Seguin makes a pass during the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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The latest on Tyler Seguin (and fellow injured Stars forward Patrick Eaves), per the Dallas Morning-News:

Q: On the statuses of Patrick Eaves (leg) and Tyler Seguin (Achilles)

Lindy Ruff: “Both skated today, both progressing.”

Q: On if Seguin and Eaves will travel with the team to St. Louis for Game 3

LR: “No, but they have flights into St. Louis every day.”

Seguin, as you’ve probably heard, hasn’t played since a Game 2 win over Minnesota in the opening round.

That was on Apr. 16.

Dallas’ All-Star center returned from a partially lacerated Achilles to participate in said Game 2, a nasty injury that cost him the final 10 games of the regular season and the series opener against the Wild.

The Stars say this latest injury has nothing to do with the previous one, but reporters haven’t been privy to much information beyond that.

In speaking last week, Ruff didn’t even want to put a timetable on Seguin’s return, for fear of what an inaccurate timetable might cause.

“I really can’t,” Ruff said. “I don’t even have a guesstimate on it. I don’t even think it’d be fair. If I guessed and if I’m off, everybody else will be wondering why did he guess that?”

GM Jim Nill did say the club expected Seguin to miss the first two games of the Blues series and, as of last Thursday, confirmed Seguin wasn’t skating.

“He’s day-to-day,” Nill explained. “Once he gets on the ice, it’s probably four to five days from there.”

This series, currently tied 1-1, will resume on Tuesday from the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

Trotz ‘disappointed’ in length of Orpik suspension, suggests NHL favors Penguins

Washington Capitals head coach Barry Trotz, top center, shouts to his players during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils Friday, March 25, 2016, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
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Barry Trotz thinks the NHL is biased in favor of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

That’s the only way to take Trotz’s remarks following Brooks Orpik‘s three-game suspension for hitting Olli Maatta late.

“I’m disappointed, but I’m not surprised based on who we’re playing and all that,” the Capitals’ head coach told reporters today.

When asked what he meant by that, Trotz replied, “Take it for whatever you want.”

Orpik, meanwhile, called the NHL’s decision “fair.”

“Bad hit,” he said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Split-second decision you make. You’ve just got to live with it.”

But let’s get back to Trotz, because he was also upset that Orpik was labelled a “predator” by NBC Sports commentator Mike Milbury.

“A predator is a guy that’s trying to hurt people,” said Trotz, per the Washington Post. “And I think it’d be very unfair to paint him that way. If you know anything about Brooks, he’s one of the classiest guys, one of the true pros in the league. And so I just think that’s really unfair.”

Regardless of Orpik’s intentions, Maatta will miss tonight’s Game 3 with an “upper-body injury.” The speculation is that the young defenseman suffered a concussion on the hit. The Penguins are hopeful that he’ll be able to play again in this series, but aren’t certain.

As for Orpik’s spot in the lineup, that’s expected to be filled by Dmitri Orlov, a healthy scratch in Game 2.